Donald Trump may be looking to trade in his 747-8 Air Force One jet in favour of a stealth bomber as the President of the United States seeks alternative wings to fly his, so far turbulent, reign.
The famous presidential Boeing 747-8 jet is overdue an upgrade and is being eyed up for retro-fitted military-grade defence features, which Trump has lambasted over the cost. For an aircraft that is coming to the end of its life anyway, a panel of aerospace and defence analysts have proposed ditching the 747 for a B-21 stealth bomber.
As reported by Aviation Week, the proliferation of high-tech surface-to-air missiles by guerrilla groups is a significant threat to Air Force One, which is a "fat radar target" and will need to be modified to provide greater defence and communication systems. The Pentagon also wants the aircraft to be able to fly in the event of nuclear war, to withstand electromagnetic pulses.
Donald Trump, when President-elect, took to Twitter to blast the building of new 747s, claiming the $4 billion cost was "out of control" and wanted to "cancel the order".
But the penny-pinching President needn't fret. Cost management consultants Wright Williams & Kelly (WWK) produced their hypothetical report detailing how Trump could save money by avoiding modifying the 747-8 and instead opting for the Northrop Grumman B-21 stealth bomber, which would tick all these boxes when ready to fly. While the report cites a B-21, the analysis is based on the unclassified B-2, which is already in operation.
"The B-21 has stealth built in, it's nuclear-rated and heavily shielded right off the bat. It's going to be terribly cramped but man, it would be a survivable platform, especially if operated in twos and threes," says Danny Lam, spokesperson for WWK.
Currently, Air Force One is capable of carrying around 70 passengers so questions over the issue of space inside the B-21 arise. However, WWK believe that the weapons bay could be stripped out and modified and if Trump's bomber is shadowed (at a safe distance) by two 737s – Boeing's smallest commercial jet, which have already been militarised by air forces – they would be able to carry White House personnel.
"All the things the 747 will need, it's already been done on the 737," says Lam. "The one-time expense of militarising the 747 would be wasted on an aircraft that is likely to go out of production because of low sales. A 737-based aircraft would probably meet most of their needs and it'll be cheaper. We're still going to be flying 737s for at least 30 years."
The radically designed B-21 Raider is based on the iconic, angular B-2, which was created in the late 1980s and introduced in 1997. The new B-21, which was shown off in 2016, takes its radar-dodging technology to the next level as enemy radars become more sophisticated. Touching down in such an aircraft would make for a typically Trumpian move which, ironically, wouldn't be stealthy at all.
"Suppose you're a little power who wants to take out the president of the US with a surprise attack. The deterrent effect of showing up in a very, very well-protected, heavily-armed aircraft with multiple planes might make you think twice," claimed WWK.
However, despite claims of saving money and making an impression to other world leaders, the estimated deployment date for the B-21 bomber is expected by around 2024, so even if this fairly wild plan did come to fruition, Trump may not even be in office see take-off it anyway. So he might just have to learn to put up with those rough hand towels on-board Air Force One instead.